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Friends changing the landscape

July 11, 2012
Estherville Daily News

Remember the great view that the back porch of the lodge at Fort Defiance State Park used to have - before all those trees got in the way?

Well, the view is back.

The Friends of Fort Defiance Tuesday night took on the task of clearing out trees and brush from behind the lodge.

"Everything we took out of here was an invasive species," said Gary Phillips, Friends president and director of the environmental studies program at Iowa Lakes Community College.

European buckthorn is the main culprit, so named because of its thorny branches and the fact that it was brought to the Midwest for use in hedgerows in the 1800s. Since then, it's invaded areas where native species grow, limiting their habitat.

Since the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has classified Fort Defiance as a satellite park, park maintenance is limited. It's groups like the Friends of Fort Defiance that have to step in and do work that would normally be done by DNR crews, according to John Wittneben, our local representative in the Iowa legislature and an active member with the Friends group since it formed six years ago.

If you haven't seen a lot of changes in the park over the last year, that's why. The Friends group, which was able to use grants from the Emmet County Community Foundation to design and distribute brochures promoting the park and to install park benches at key locations few years ago, is now doing the "nitty gritty" work that parks or trails help would normally do.

But it's all making a difference. The Friends have been able to maintain the trails they've built in the park over the last few years - a project that garnered them the award for best large group project by any friends group in Iowa a few years ago.

You can be a part of the Friends group too. It's a great way to get outside and enjoy the outdoors and make a difference in one of the most beautiful parks in northwest Iowa. Just keep on eye on upcoming issues of the Daily News for future Friends meetings and work sessions.

You can also join for just $10 a year for individuals or families. Dues go to help produce the Friend newsletter and toward future major projects. One future goal of the group is to construct modern restrooms with a shower house in the park.

Dues can be sent to: Friends of Fort Defiance, P.O. Box 314, Estherville, IA 51334. It's a minimal amount for a group that's making a maximum impact on one of northwest Iowa's great treasures.



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